Radiation Therapy

*Disclaimer – as I am not a radiation oncologist, I will only describe radiation in general terms.

Radiation is often applied to tumors in different settings:

  • When a tumor is unresectable
  • After surgical removal of the tumor
  • Before surgical removal of the tumor to make surgery easier.
  • Instead of surgical removal of the tumor, such as in prostate cancer
  • To palliate pain from a tumor such as one lodged in the bones

Steps in receiving radiation:

  • Visit a radiation oncologist physician
  • This physician will perform a simulation of the tumor with a CT scan to determine the optimal technique for radiation
  • Radiation is then given, and receiving it is like getting a CT scan. The dose and schedule vary tremendously, and can vary from one to two doses daily to a six week daily course of radiation.

Common side effects of radiation:

  • When radiation first starts, it is usually not very difficult. Its side effects tend to be cumulative and radiation gets tougher as the treatment course goes on.
  • Side effects vary based on the body part being radiated. For example, radiation of head and neck tumors often leads to dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. Skin burns (like a bad sunburn) or even skin breaking open can occur with intense radiation treatment.
  • Will you lose your hair? Only if radiation is applied to the scalp area.


  • If a tumor is radiated enough, it will die, but one major reason that we cannot kill or push back every tumor with radiation is that we damage normal tissues with too much radiation.
  • Low dose chemotherapy is often used with radiation to potentiate the radiation effect.
  • Different types of radiation therapy exist, which include electron beam therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), proton beam therapy, brachytherapy (seeds).  a specific type of radiation being used will depend on your disease, physician preference, and availability of any clinical trials.
  • Visit http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation for a great patient friendly radiation guide.


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